The fourth RAF Pageant took place on Saturday, 30 June 1923. The 'turn of the afternoon', as in the previous year, was 'another little Eastern drama, based on actual happenings during the War'.1 Once more the Wottnotts were the enemy, and once more the co-operation of air and ground forces was the theme. The main difference with 1922 was that this time the RAF was coming to the aid of a besieged garrison:
On the centre of the "stage" one saw an impressive railway bridge and sundry buildings. The small military garrison protecting this post was suddenly attacked by our old friends (or enemies?), the Wottnott Arabs. The garrison, being outnumbered, W.T.'d for help, which, before you could say "Jack Robinson," appeared in the form of three Vickers troop carriers, escorted by five Sopwith "Snipes."2
But something had to be be blown up, and so the troop carriers are used ferry troops who destroy a bridge and thereby save the day.
The troop carriers landed beside the bridge, small parties of machine gunners emerging from their interiors and rushing to the assistance of the garrison. In the meanwhile the "Snipes" hold back the Wottnott Arabs with machine-gun fire, whilst the garrison emplanes in the troop carriers, and a demolition party charges under the bridge for the purpose of its utter destruction. When all was ready, the guard blew his whistle, and the troop carriers sailed away for safety. Then the bridge blew up, which so annoyed the Wottnotts that, after all falling down dead, they got up and made a dash, to the accompaniment of wild yells, for the public enclosures.
What remained of the spectators after the horrible slaughter then witness the final event of the day [the usual smokescreen-laying].3
There was a change of scenery in the final for the next year's Pageant, held on Saturday, 30 June 1924.4 Spectators were invited to make believe that the grass at Hendon represented the sea, upon which were two enormous 'ships', essentially flat stage props cunningly painted to give the illusion of three dimensions (at least from where the spectators were standing):
One was 'an English cargo ship, the "John Henry" of Newcastle, and the other a peaceful-looking, but armed enemy merchant cruiser, the "Slevic".'5 The scenario here was that the Slevic ordered the John Henry to stop and prepare to be boarded. Luckily, a RAF Supermarine Seagull appeared on the scene and radioed for help. This came in two waves. The first consisted of three Fairey Flycatcher 'ship's fighters', which strafed the Slevic and put its guns out of action.6
Then the second wave arrived:
Suddenly, five Blackburn "Dart" torpedo 'planes arrived on the scene, and making for the "Slevic" launched their torpedos. The latter were observed to fall one after the other and travel a short distance towards their object before finally disappearing from view in the grass (sorry! sea!!). Then a few awful moments passed, when, suddenly, with a loud boom a column of smoke and "water" shot high up into the air at the "Slevic's" bows, exposing to view, immediately after, a huge ragged hole in her bows. Almost at the same time the other torpedoes found the mark, one right amidships. There was a terrific explosion, a mass of dense black smoke mixed with flying fragments of "Slevic" following by a column of what appeared to be a mixture of smoke and steam. Gradually this cleared away -- and the "Slevic" had completely disappeared!7
Thus concluded what in Flight's opinion 'was, undoubtedly, the best scenic display the Pageant has yet given -- equal to any other we have seen'.8 British Pathe liked the sinking of the Slevic too, choosing it to open their newsreel coverage.
So successful was it, in fact, that the finale to the next Hendon -- held on Saturday, 27 June 1925, and now renamed the RAF Display -- was very similar. The commerce raider this time was found sheltering in a tropical river rather than sailing on the open sea, so the RAF didn't send in torpedo bombers. Instead, the Seagull and the Flycatchers reprised their 1924 roles, and then:
After a short interval a fleet of heavy bombers, consisting of three Avro "Aldershots," and nine Vickers "Virginias," arrived on the scene from a base conveniently situated close at hand, and with few Oh very direct hits put an end to the cruiser's nasty bad habits.9
If there's a theme to these set pieces, it's substitution: i.e. the substitution of airpower for military power and seapower. Anything the Army and Navy can do, the RAF can do better. It can patrol the Empire's reaches more efficiently and more effectively, bringing greater force to bear more quickly than can even tanks and battlecruisers. (Indeed, another Hendon standby at this stage was the bombing and destruction of a tank.) Certainly, as Major F. A. de V. Robertson, noted, 'The public probably never stopped to inquire how nine "Virginias" and three "Aldershots" [based in Britain] arrived off the coast of Africa, or wherever it was'.10 But that's precisely why the Hendon spectaculars made such powerful propaganda for the RAF.
Ibid., 425. ↩
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